Tramaine Brock 49ersOn Saturday I convinced everyone that Justin Smith is the 49ers’ MVP … or tried to, anyway. Most people would probably go with someone flashier, like NaVorro Bowman or Phil Dawson, but I’m sticking with the man they call “Cowboy.”

Now that we’ve gotten that taken care of, today seemed like a good time to discuss an “award” that doesn’t really exist — at least not in a team sense (the players actually vote on the “Bill Walsh Award,” which goes to the team MVP). I wasn’t sure exactly what to call it, so I went with “Most Improved Player of the Year.” Mostly that’s because “Pleasant Surprise of the Year” doesn’t sound all that exciting, “Breakthrough Player” sounds too much like the ESPYs, and “Player We Didn’t Think Would Do Much Who Actually Did Pretty Well” isn’t catchy enough. So, “Most Improved Player” it is.

Here are the candidates:

Bruce Miller: The 49ers needed someone to help fill the void left by Delanie Walker while Vance McDonald figured things out at the pro level. McDonald still isn’t up to speed, but luckily for San Francisco they have Miller. Back in August I brought up the possibility that Miller’s role in the passing game could increase, but no one predicted he’d be the team’s third-leading receiver this season. Take that as an opportunity to mock the 49ers’ receiving corps if you wish, but Miller has stepped in as a sorely needed passing option while playing more snaps than ever before and continuing his work as one of the best blocking fullbacks in the league.

Glenn Dorsey: He barely played last season for the Chiefs, and Ian Williams opened the year ahead of him on the depth chart. So for Dorsey to have the best season of his career (not just as a contributor to a winning team, but also in terms of overall rating from Pro Football Focus) is pretty remarkable. It seemed like he was the only productive player on either side for the 49ers during the loss in Seattle, the game when Williams broke his ankle. But Dorsey’s best performance came in Week 4 against St. Louis. Bowman (deservedly) has gotten a ton of credit for his performance in that must-win game, but Dorsey was great against the run and registered a sack.

Donte Whitner: He was No. 3 in my MVP ballot, which is pretty incredible considering how bad he was in coverage last season. Whitner is currently ranked third among all safeties in PFF’s rankings. Last year, he came in 53rd.

Anquan Boldin: It seems weird to place him on this list since he’s always been good, but in many ways Boldin is having his best season since he played for the Cardinals. He’s 42 receiving yards away from passing the 1,000-yard mark for the first time since 2009 (when he had 1,024 yards), despite working with a new quarterback and facing more double-teams than ever before as the 49ers struggled to find another productive receiver until Michael Crabtree’s return. He’s also been more vocal throughout the season (including some words of encouragement for the offense during their 17-play drive yesterday that lasted 10:27). At this point it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where the 49ers can afford not to extend Boldin since he’s shown no signs of slowing down.

Tramaine Brock: The 49ers surely wish they would’ve stayed away from Nnamdi Asomugha and kept Marcus Cooper instead, but they simply didn’t think they could trust Brock to play well enough to keep the No. 3 cornerback spot warm until either Cooper or Eric Wright was ready to step in. But after a rough start, Asomugha injured his knee and his career ended with a thud. Then Brock stepped in and played so well the 49ers gave him an extension that included $7 million guaranteed. Brock is tied for third in interceptions for a cornerback with four, and PFF has him graded as the fifth best cornerback in the league with a score of 12.2 (2.2 points higher than Richard Sherman). Not bad for a guy who played only 30 defensive snaps in 2012.


Who would you vote for as the 49ers’ Most Improved Player in 2013? Let us know in the comments and you’ll be entered to win a free large pizza (any toppings) from Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria. And to show you who’d get my vote, I’ll throw in an autographed photo of Tramaine Brock!